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Garden - Grand Canyon Routes
Old Kaibab Trail Loop Hike, 03 Jun 2002
It seems a little unclear whether the name should be Old Bright Angel Trail or Old Kaibab Trail. This was marked as part of the original Kaibab Trail on the Matthes Evans survey, and Old Kaibab Trail appears in GCT-I and on older Grand Canyon National Park maps (it is unmarked on newer maps). This abandoned trail joins the upper northern arm of Bright Angel Canyon to Roaring Springs and was the principle cross-canyon connection before construction of the new trail (1930s) in Roaring Springs Canyon. One of the interesting characteristics of this old trail is that the slopes are not as vulnerable to the rockfall, slides and erosion that so often damage the newer North Kaibab sections each winter season.
The trailhead can be reached following the Ken Patrick Trail east from the North Kaibab parking area, but it is more historic and authentic to follow the old access road from the pullout in Turner Canyon on the road to Cape Royal. The road rises in 2 miles to a high elevation at the rim over 8600 feet. An old signpost here indicates 7 miles to Roaring Springs, which is somewhat misleading because the trail does not really go directly to that destination.
The trail rolls easily off the rim to the east of the point, contours west on the slope below the rim and takes a switchback at a rocky overlook with a fine view. The trail then descends a wooded slope as it angles south across the west slope of a divide between arms of Bright Angel Creek. This offers shadow and cool hiking conditions in morning; direct exposure to the sun in the afternoon. There are no limestone cliffs and a series of easy breaks with few switchbacks makes a descent through the brushy slopes of the Coconino. The broad bed and even grade of the trail with occasional retaining walls and rock erosion bars show that the trail was once meticulously constructed and maintained. Nearly all of this section of the trail is original. The trail runs south for some distance as the vegetation changes from scrub oak to manzanita. A series of switchbacks descends a steep slope in the Supai and the trail disappears following the dry streambed until the Redwall pouroff. Above the bed on the south slope is an agave pit showing a large quantity of charcoal in the soil. An old rusty bucket indicates it may have been a camp also. Here the trail exits southwest to reach a natural Redwall break. This section is in excellent condition and travel is easy until reaching a spring in the Muav sidecanyon. This is a lovely spot to stop at with a cascade waterfall below and would make a good turnaround for a pleasant dayhike.
The trail goes up onto the opposite slope where it begins to show signs of serious erosion. Sections on the flat are still clear, but as the trail descends nearer Bright Angel Creek the original track is lost in slides and brush, more obscure to follow and more strenuous. Checking older maps shows that the original creek crossing was probably near the 5100 foot contour with the trail following the east bank and then coming back to the west side at a bend in the creek. The present track of use continues along the west slope above the creek and this track rejoins the original trail at the 5000 foot contour when it first reaches streamside. This is the only crossing required and a narrow section tightly choked with boulders makes an easy dry hop across the creek. The continuation seems ambiguous but goes up a steep ravine to rejoin and follow a relatively level and somewhat narrow track above the Tapeats layers along the east bank.
Very soon the sound and sight of Roaring Springs are opposite. It seems likely there was once a trail junction here to Roaring Springs, and there should be no problem going down to the the creek and crossing above where the two streams come together. As the combined flow cuts a deeper channel the trail remains high above Bright Angel Creek and passes through another Muav sidecanyon with a good spring. The original trail must have gone down to the creek to cross and join the present trail at the lowest point upstream of the maintenance house. A faint track, obviously not original, continues downstream, reaching the North Kaibab Trail near Manzanita Canyon at the bridge.
Difficulty and Appeal
There is no trail marked on recent USGS surveys. It is clearly but somewhat erroneously marked on the current (2000) Trails Illustrated map. The alignment of the Ken Patrick Trail shown is also incorrect and anyone wishing to hike this should seek advice from the NPS Back Country Office or be prepared to do their own routefinding. This is classic North Rim territory with a superb historic trail and good water along the way, and you may be lucky enough to have the whole area to yourself. The remote access to the trailhead at the rim and poor condition of the lower section makes going down to Roaring Springs and the return to the rim via the North Kaibab a strenuous and ambitious dayhike (5 hours down to Roaring Springs for me and an hour more to the turnaround at the bridge). And due to the fact that camping permits are not available for this area there are few options. But I was not in a great hurry and a faster hiker might complete the loop in 8 hours.
Old Bright Angel Route
Old Bright Angel TH to N Kaibab Trail: 7 miles
7.5’ Bright Angel Point
15’ Bright Angel
8400’ to 4400’
From Ken Patrick Trail: This trail begins at the northeast corner of the North Kaibab Trailhead parking lot. It is approximately 5.6 miles from the parking lot to the Old Bright Angel Trailhead.
From Rock Meadow Road: Follow the Point Imperial/Cape Royal Road for 1.5 miles from where it intersects with Hwy 67. The trail begins in a meadow and follows a faint road blocked by six large rocks. Vehicles may be parked at the paved pull-off a short distance beyond the beginning of this old fire road. It is approximately 2 miles from the meadow to the Old Bright Angel Trailhead.
The trailhead is marked by a sign pointing to the Old Bright Angel Trail, as well as Point Imperial, and Bright Angel Point. The trail descends by many short steep switchbacks through the Coconino, Hermit, and Supai formations. This section is very overgrown and brushy, but not difficult to follow. Watch for cairns at the base of the Supai as the trail enters a drywash and follows it for a short distance before climbing up to the right (west) to avoid a large dropoff at the top of the Redwall. The trail traverses this west slope high above Bright Angel Creek providing fine views of the Redwall until beginning a steep, but well defined descent. Near the base of the Redwall the trail crosses a small creek which is the first reliable water source encountered on this hike.
The trail ascends out of this drainage and soon drops into Bright Angel Creek briefly before climbing steeply up the traverse along the Muav Limestone for some distance to avoid obstacles in the creek bottom. The trail finally descends again to the creek and follows it a short ways downstream to a crossing. The trail, now on the east side of the creek, traverses above the creek, approximately ½ mile until it crosses Manzanita Canyon and then intersects the North Kaibab Trail at the bridge just below the Roaring Springs residence. Distance to Cottonwood Campground is 1.5 miles; distance to the North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail is 5.5 miles.
Bright Angel Creek & a small creek at the base of the Redwall.
No camping is permitted along the Old Bright Angel Trail. Camping is permitted in the Walhalla Use Area.
Not much is know about the Old Bright Angel Trail but people have apparently started using it again. One reference to the trail even refers to it as Old Kaibab Trail. The route is not marked on my older 1989 Trails Illustrated topo map, but it is marked on the newer 1994 revision.
The Old Bright Angel Trail and the current Bright Angel Trail have nothing in common except the name. They are on opposite sides of the Canyon and worlds apart for all practical purposes. This should not surprise anyone who has been to the Canyon as a good number of things there have Bright Angel as part of their names. But with a trail that is supposed to go from one place to another, it just confuses the issue.
The Old Bright Angel Trail was originally blazed by a man by the name of Francois Emile Matthes, who surveyed the area for the United States Geological Survey in 1902. The original trail supposedly criss-crossed Bright Angel Creek 94 times before it reached the Colorado River. The trail was upgraded between 1924 and 1928 by E.D. Woolley and the Grand Canyon Transportation Company in an effort to bring tourists across the Canyon to visit the north rim. After the Park Service complete the modern North Kaibab Trail the Old Bright Angel fell into disuse and deteriorated.
The Old Bright Angel and North Kaibab trails make a good, but rather long, one-day loop hike. It is recommended that you use the Old Bright Angel Trail for the descent as it is much easier to follow going down than up. The round-trip loop is about 16 miles and should take about 10-12 hours.
To reach the trailhead of the Old Bright Angel Trail follow the Ken Patrick Trail about 4 miles northeast to the head of Bright Angel Canyon. The trailhead is clearly marked with a sign. The trail bears downhill and to your right (southwest), until it gets into some really, really heavy scrub oak and thorny thickets. If you are the first one on the trail at the start of the hiking season you may experience some trouble getting through all of the growth and unless you've got a machete to hack your way through it you will most likely have to find some other way around the densest parts. The top mile or so of the trail descends quickly through the Kaibab Limestone and then meanders slowly down and along the Toroweap Formation for another mile or so until it comes to a break in Coconino Sandstone that allows you to descend into a normally dry, western tributary of Bright Angel Creek.
Near the top of the trail, for the first mile or so at least, it is very easy to loose the trail. Good routing finding abilities are a must for the first few miles of the trail. Stop and look around and you should be able to find the remains of the old trail heading down the left (east) side of the drainage. Be careful that you are on the main trail and not on a game trail or someone else's mistake. There are a number of places where you must make a decision as to which fork in the trail to take. Some of these alternate paths may eventually bring you back to the main trail but I did not follow them to find out. You must stay high and towards the left until you get to the proper spot be descend through the Coconino, which is just behind (north of) the small butte that sits out on the tip of the arm along which you are traversing.
The descent towards the dry creek is about a half mile and is accomplished via a quick set of switchbacks. It does not bring you immediately to the bed of the creek itself but rather stops just short of if and continues high up along its eastern side in the Hermit Shale. After another half mile or more the trail finally descends to and then continues along the floor of the creek bed until it comes to a high, dry falls. The view from this point on the trail is magnificent. The main arm of Bright Angel Creek enters from the east and joins with the tributary canyon through which you have descended. You should now be able to hear the water racing along, 600-700 feet below you.
After you pass the falls the trail continues on the right (west) side of the drainage, along the bottom layers of the Supai Formation. After another half mile or so the trail finally comes to the correct break in the Redwall Limestone that permits you to continue your descent. Like most Redwall descents this one is a quick scramble and in only a little more than a quarter mile, it's over.
Shortly beyond the Redwall descent the trail contours back around the arm of land, along which you have been following, and begins to descend toward another small drainage entering from the north. The trail turns northwest to cross the creek bed just behind another falls. If there is any water flowing here it makes a very pretty falls as the drop through the Muav Limestone is not a sheer one but rather a very steep slope along which the water spreads itself like a veil.
After crossing the creek bed the trail continues its south-southwesterly course. At this point the trail gets somewhat confusing. It appears to stay on the right (west) side of Bright Angel Creek for longer than it should according to the trail shown on the topo. It descends down through the Muav Limestone and into the Bright Angel Shale and comes close enough to the creek for you to cross. This is a trap and if you cross the creek there is apparently no where to go on the other side. I do, however, believe that this is where the topo shows the trail crossing the creek so there maybe something on the other side that I just didn't see. When you get to this descent you should stop and try to locate the main trail as it continues on higher up above the creek. If you do descend to the creek there is another trail, which is a major scramble that will bring you back up to the main trail a little further to the south. I think this scramble was made by the attempts of numerous people to escape this trap without backtracking their original descent.
Once past this spot the trail makes another false descent towards the creek bed and then rises back up again. The third descent is the real one. If you didn't know better though, you would think that it is messing with your mind again. The trail is difficult to follow as it leads you through a heavily vegetated area to a good spot to cross to the other side. Looks for cairns placed on top of the larger boulders if you can't spot the actual trail.
After you cross the creek the trail climbs up and away from the creek a little and then proceeds quickly down the creek along the left (east) side. After a little more than a mile you will come to the confluence with Roaring Springs entering from the northwest. The trail crosses the waters of the combined flow immediately below the confluence. If you follow the trail that continues along the east side of the creek you will come to Cottonwood Camp in about 2 miles. Just below the confluence the creek enters a deep chasm in the Tapeats Sandstone and there is no way to cross it. If you get to this area and had intended to cross the creek and ascend via the North Kaibab Trail you will need to backtrack and look for the right place to cross the creek. The trail across descends through the top layers of the Tapeats and crosses the creek just below the confluence.
Once across the creek a short scramble up the other bank will put you on the trail. The trail heading south is the North Kaibab Trail, while the trail heading north is just a side trail that leads to the Roaring Springs pumping station. If you head up towards the pumping station you can also pick your way through to the picnic area just north of it, that is used by dayhikers as well as the full day mule trips coming down from the north rim. A side trail located there will lead you up to the North Kaibab Trail.